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Cruise Guide: the Middle East, Arabia & the Red Sea

Cruise Advice

The Gulf Countries and their northern neighbours may not be the first destinations that come to mind when you consider where you'd like to cruise next, but years of investment in the tourism sector means the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula and Red Sea countries are fast becoming popular holiday spots. Here is your guide to cruising this region, from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Peninsula to the Middle East and Red Sea cruises.

Guaranteed sunshine, good shopping, historically significant sites and fascinating trips into the desert all add to the appeal, but there is also the opportunity to see the contrasts of ancient and modern trade in this region, juxtaposing the nomad peoples of the Arabian deserts with the lavish wealth of the oil-producing nations. Read on for your cruising guide to this fascinating part of the world.

The UAE is made up of seven emirates, though cruise lines tend to stick to visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi. World record-topping high-rise buildings, extensive air-conditioned shopping malls and extraordinary man-made tourist attractions abound in glamorous Dubai, home to some of the world's most glitzy and expensive hotels.

Next door, UAE capital Abu Dhabi gives Dubai a run for its money with its turquoise waters, powder-white sands and dominating skyscrapers and architectural marvels including the Louvre Abu Dhabi and one of the world's largest mosques, the vast, shining white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

While Qatar was a controversial choice for the World Cup, capital city Doha is on the up, home to cultural venues such as the spectacular Museum of Islamic Art alongside traditional attractions, such as the atmospheric souks and the lovely waterfront Corniche promenade.

Nearby Bahrain, a tiny nation made up of 50 natural islands and 33 artificial islands in the bright blue Persian Gulf, offers skyscrapers and shopping malls in capital Manama, and neighbouring Saudi Arabia's Jeddah is a popular port - the gateway for pilgrims making the Hajj to Hejaz, home to the holy cities of Mecca (although not open to non-Muslims) and Medina.

The other key port is Al Wajh, gateway to Al-'Ula and the ancient Nabataean city of Hegra, Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose rock-hewn tombs are reminiscent of its more famous sister city, Petra, a few hundred miles to the north in Jordan.

Cruises often anchor at Jordan's principal beach resort, Aqaba, whose main attraction is its incredible diving, with crystal clear waters and some of the world's most spectacular coral reefs, but many visitors will instead use the port as a jumping off point for the magnificent desert landscapes of Wadi Rum and the UNESCO-listed 'Rose City' of Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, where sandstone cliffs house incredible tombs and monuments.

Across the border in Israel you'll find Haifa, a bustling and multicultural place where six different faiths live side by side and the beautiful Baha'i Gardens are a must-see. It's also a gateway to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, home to sites of immense spiritual significance such as the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Egypt has long been a popular cruising destination, often reached via the iconic Suez Canal that links Mediterranean with the Red Sea. It's a country filled with treasures, no least in capital Cairo for the famous Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza and the Egyptian Museum's stupendous collection of ancient artefacts, including the Tutankhamen treasures.

Luxor is another must-see, boasting an extraordinary collection of tombs, temple complexes and stone structures that hint at the magnificence of this former Ancient Egyptian capital, with the west bank home to the incredible Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. Finally, Egypt's southernmost city, Aswan, is where the Nile is at its most majestic; many monuments and sites are within easy reach, such as the temple of Philae and the Aga Khan Mausoleum.

An Egyptian cruise is often combined with a stop in Oman, and capital Muscat is far more laid back and low rise than its UAE neighbours. Take a stroll along the waterfront Corniche promenade, soak up the sun on one of the excellent beaches or explore the mosques and forts of the atmospheric old quarter, while second city Salalah offers a pleasant sub-tropical climate, which turns the city into an oasis of lush greenery during the 'khareef' (monsoon) season.

Although the season in this region runs from October to April - May to September is far too hot - some cruise lines will only offer a handful of sailings in this area, so if you're keen it's worth booking early.

More and more cruise lines are offering voyages in this region and lines such as Seabourn, Windstar, Regent, Ponant and Silversea offer specific Holy Land cruises that also mix in stops at the Turkish port of Kusadasi for spectacular Ephesus, as well as frequent sailings to and from Dubai and Abu Dhabi with stops at Oman, Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. For specific Egypt and the Nile cruises we highly recommend AmaWaterways and Uniworld who offer all-encompassing 7- and 11-night explorations of the region.

Meet the author

Claire is Marketing Manager at Mundy Cruising, having worked with the company for nearly a year and in travel for over 8 years. Most recently she's cruised on Seabourn and has also sailed with Ponant and Uniworld. Her favourite destination is Sweden however she's also enjoyed cruises in the the Galapagos, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Northern Europe, Greek Isles and the Far East. When she’s not travelling she loves weekends away in the countryside.

More about Claire

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